My first floppy diskette – a single-sided, double density 5.25″ Verbatim

The brand name Verbatim invokes a magical feeling within me, even until today. 

My first floppy disks for the 6502, 1Mhz Apple ][ running Apple DOS 3.3 were a pair of two black-sleeve encased floppy diskettes in their hard cardboard pink-holders. Each one cost $12 at the time, a minor fortune for a school kid in 1981. And yes, I still have them. They contained so many delights in the forms of games and utilities as well as programmes I wrote using BASIC and the 6502 machine code (hmm that had us 'poking' before facebook). 

I think it was my classmate Colin Nah who persuaded me to join the St. Andrew's Secondary School Apple ][ computer club. Later it was the Serangoon Gardens Community Centre gave me space and time to explore programming and world of Apple ][ in the company of neighbourhood kids – a couple of whom were geeks and information exchange was a lovely thing. By 1983,  I had  conducted my first course at the CC for younger kids from the neighbourhood with the help of my friends. Although we were course instructors, we had not been formally taught but had read, experimented and learnt from peers, teaching each other quite a bit. Until the night guard chased us out after 10pm.

I remember slotting these diskettes in to box-like external floppy drives called Disk II. Although single-sided, these Verbatim 5-1/4 disks were double density and thus error-free even when you forced their use as double-sided disks. this as accomplished by cutting out a copy-protection slot in the side with a penknife, like I had done with this first diskette. Later I learnt from some older kid that simply using a paper puncher would do. Well that doubled the value of the resource. 

Of course, the price of 5.25" disks would eventually plummet, well and when I reached my 10th diskette, they were cheaper. 

I think there were ?40 tracks in each diskette which contained data. Vaguely memories depict a programme reading data sectors on a flickering green screen  I think it was called Locksmith. It helped you examine the actual content of each track –  while the first one or two? were used for system software which made a disk bootable, you could write over these in a non-bootable data disk and recover the space. I have hazy memories of the kid who introduced me to Locksmith.

The Apple 16 sticker was meant for 16kb RAM cards which could be slotted in to the flexible Apple ][ motherboard (a Wozniak classic of elegance and possibilities) – someone had handed these out to us eager school kids like candy. I still have unused stickers which I paste on my current macs every now and then to remind me of the good  times of exploration and discovery. Otherwise,merely spotting the brand name Verbatim in its distinctive font is enough to trigger some good vibrations.

A pretty, new Google Forms template for The Wallace Talk: Blue Birds

Amongst the many things Linda Goh from NParks talked to me about on Wednesday was the opportunity to feature an old friend of the lab, Paul Spencer Sochaczewski in a public talk about Wallace. Paul had come by the Systematics & Ecology lab during his hunt to trace Wallace’s footprints in the 90’s and wrote an article about Singapore’s endemic freshwater crabs and Peter Ng in the process. I had read a lovely book he had written with Jeffrey McNeely called “Soul of the Tiger” – I relished this as an undergrad for Paul is an effective communicator.

NParks was in contact with him and apparently he would be passing through Singapore late next week and was game to give a public talk. Linda said they did not have a suitable venue and asked if we could provide one. Certainly Paul would be well received by staff and students and I procured an LT yesterday, on cold turkey day – our department’s admin and support staff were all away at a retreat, leaving most of the academic staff curled up in a foeatal position.

I decided not to be adventurous and once I secured LT22 for next Friday at 6pm, I did not try to think of a better venue.

While preparing the registration form, I found a lovely form design called Blue Birds. Suitable for this talk which is entitled “An Inordinate Fondness for Beetles,” it was lovely enough for me to ignore the general rule of sticking to san serif fonts for registration forms.

It will be an entertaining and informative talk from what I remember about Paul. The registration form is at and you can see talk details on The Biodiversity Crew blog. Two of the Raffles Museum Toddycats have already registered, boy are they quick!

Unfortunately most of the honours class will miss this public talk but they will be having fun in Pulau Tioman.